Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the cubicle, and while few people dispute the impact this workplace wonder has had on office design and culture, most agree that cubicles have come to symbolize the old way of doing business.
Today, companies have transitioned to more open floor plans designed to foster creativity and collaboration among employees. In fact, open offices accounted for 70 percent of workplaces in a 2010 survey conducted by the International Management Facility Association.
But as the novelty of open plan offices has worn off, their negative qualities have started to emerge, including:
- Lower productivity: Research has shown that people who work in open offices experience higher levels of stress and lower levels of concentration and motivation. One study found that clerical workers who were exposed to open office noise for at least three hours had increased levels of epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), a hormone associated with the fight-or-flight response. Other researchers have found that exposure to noise in the workplace can make it difficult for workers to do everything from recalling information to doing simple arithmetic. In other words, open offices not only reduce the amount of work that gets done, but also the quality of the work when employees have a difficult time focusing on the task at hand.
Whether they have their own office or lease space in a coworking or shared office center, businesses of all sizes are finding the problems created by open floor plans often outweigh the benefits. This realization has created a need for a hybrid office model that facilitates teamwork without sacrificing employee privacy. The ideal floor plan is an office model consisting of three key elements:
- Collaborative common areas: Workplaces should offer a variety of common areas that are equipped for meetings and more casual gatherings. Today's workers want variety -- conference and lunch rooms, or something as informal as a seating area with a couch and a couple of armchairs. All of these spaces should be designed with the employee in mind. Are there surfaces for them to work on? Internet access? Outlets for their cell phones, tablets and computers? If it isn't functional, it isn't really serving a purpose.
The implementation of these elements creates a workplace that offers the same level of collaboration as an open office while simultaneously eliminating the headaches caused by offices that took the open plan concept too far.
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Frank Chalupa is president and co-founder of Amata Office Solutions, a Chicago-based real estate provider specializing in office solutions for companies requiring up to 10,000 square feet of office space.
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